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Sandomierz. The mystery of Sandomierz chess has been solved. DNA testing revealed what bones they were carved from

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Created in the 12th or 13th century, they are unique on a Polish scale and one of the few such artifacts in all of Europe. Researchers discovered that the figures and pieces of the so-called Sandomierz chess were not made – as it was suspected – from the bones of exotic animals, but from the bones of a horse, cow and deer. DNA testing helped unravel the mystery.

Research conducted by experts from the University of Warsaw gave an answer to the question of what materials the so-called Sandomierz chess – one of the most valuable relics of this type in Poland – was made of.

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Contrary to earlier suspicions, a unique copy of the popular board game was not made of the bones of exotic animals such as elephants. The bones of a domestic horse were used to create half of the pieces and chess pieces. They are more clearly decorated than the second set, which – as it turned out – was made of cow bones. In turn, one of the most likely extra pawns was carved from the bone of a noble deer. Such conclusions are indicated by the conducted DNA tests.

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“Sandomierz azakhs” were found in 1962 on the hill of St. JacobCastle Museum in Sandomierz

Almost complete medieval chess set

– In such old museum materials, DNA is preserved in very small amounts and is difficult to analyze. Fortunately, we were able to obtain almost complete mitochondrial genome sequences, which allowed us to find out what species of animals the pieces we studied were made of – explained Dr. Danijela Popović from the Center of New Technologies of the University of Warsaw at the press conference.

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The so-called Sandomierz chess was discovered in 1962 on the hill of St. James in Sandomierz (Świętokrzyskie Province) during archaeological excavations. The set is almost complete – out of 32 pieces, only three pieces have not been found.

“Sandomierz chess” was found in 1962 on the hill of St. JacobCastle Museum in Sandomierz

– The research carried out by the team of Dr. Popović is important because thanks to them we know, among other things, how to conduct proper conservation of this monument. For the time being, we are unable to say whether the chess was made in our area, Russia or by Italian craftsmen – said Dr. Wojciech Rajpold from the archaeological department of the Castle Museum in Sandomierz.

Muslim-style chess on the Sandomierz hill

As we read on the website of the Castle Museum in Sandomierz, the 12th or first half of the 13th century is assumed to be the time when chess was invented. “In the past, it was believed that the find could be related to the expedition of Henryk Sandomierz to the Holy Land in 1155, but today, one of the explanations is the presence of Sandomierz on the route connecting Kiev with Western Europe, or possibly with the arrival of the Dominican friars in Sandomierz” – informs the museum . It is possible that the miniature sculptures were created in one of the workshops on the site today Italian.

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King’s figureCastle Museum in Sandomierz

Pieces and pieces represent an abstract Muslim style, they are among the smallest among the medieval chess pieces found in Poland. Their height reaches a maximum of 25 millimeters. There are over 50 finds of medieval chess pieces known from Poland, but almost all of them were single pieces. In this case, almost the entire set was recovered.

Bishop pieceCastle Museum in Sandomierz

Museum professionals emphasize that the figures and verticals were cut by hand, then ground and polished. Some of them were created after cutting a larger piece, previously shaped in the form of two figures connected by the base. The pieces are decorated with an ornament in the form of engraved lines and “holes” made with compasses. It is possible that one of the sets was once covered with a dye to distinguish the pages, the traces of which have not survived to this day.

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The oldest finds of chess pieces in Poland date back to the 11th-12th century – they were discovered in Wrocław. Later, elements of the board game were also found in Kraków, Opole, Gniezno and Kruszwica.

Castle Museum in Sandomierz, PAP

Main photo source: Castle Museum in Sandomierz

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